Hillside Entry Garden

I recently had the pleasure of designing and overseeing the installation of an entry garden for a house in the Kensington hills.  The house is a 1949 ranch house with a brick entry patio and situated just below street level.  The house was well taken care of and in great shape but the landscape was in despair.  The garden was showing signs of being long neglected and the existing hardscape was in need of an update to reflect the owner’s personal aesthetics.

Although the staircase and walkway were functional, both lacked character and interest.  The entry staircase was an industrial-looking concrete staircase/landing running straight to the brick entry walkway.  Adding to the visual distress was the inappropriate metal handrail running along both sides of the staircase and landing.  Both lacked character and did not enhance this charming ranch house.  A brick walkway was poorly installed and not wide enough for two people to walk side by side.  A general rule of mine is that all front-entry walkways should be generous in size and allow two people to hold a conversation while walking to the door.  The entry walkway is not the place to play “follow the leader”.

The clients had consulted with friends and other designers before contacting Lazar Landscape.  They compiled a list of issues they wanted the new landscape to address.  Their main concerns were:

  • Getting up and down from the front door to the street level in a safe yet aesthetically pleasing manner.
  • Create a beautiful and interesting visual focal point from the front door.
  • Install a diverse, environmentally friendly, yet low maintenance entry garden.

As is typical in so many gardens we design and install, the entire project was to be completed within a tight budget.

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In order to keep the project within budget, I decided to keep the top portion of the concrete staircase and landing as well as the Pressure Treated Douglas Fir (PTDF) wall and Moss-rock retaining wall.  The lower portion of the concrete staircase and the brick walkway were scheduled for demolition.  All plants (including weeds) on the hillside and the gopher damaged sod-lawn were also on the list for removal.

The ranch house had recently had a major remodel to the interior and a fresh coat of paint to the exterior.  The new exterior color scheme was a modern combination of light gray for the main body of the house, medium gray for the base of the house and cream for the window trim.  The best stone for the hardscape, complimenting this new paint color (and falling within the budget) was full-range Connecticut Bluestone set in a random pattern.  Connecticut Bluestone was used as a veneer on the existing concrete step treads and landing.  The same stone was also used on the new step treads, the new-mortared walkway and stepping stones running through the garden.  To cover the risers (face of steps), we chose colored stucco.  The color selected was LaHabra’s ‘Silver Grey’.

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To create a beautiful and interesting visual focal point from the front door, we installed a large water feature directly across the front door.  A 4-foot curved wall was constructed behind this water feature.  This 4-foot wall is 18 inches high on the backside and creates the perfect place to sit when you are at the staircase landing.  The new staircase begins on one side of the new wall and wraps around it before connecting to the original concrete landing.  The original brick walkway was replaced with a 5-foot wide Connecticut Bluestone curved walkway.

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The client and I selected a large ceramic urn to become an “over-flowing” water feature.  The large ceramic urn was set within a large 6-foot diameter circle of 3/8” Tuscan Gravel.  The fountain pump and plastic water reservoir sit below the ceramic urn and gravel bed.  Giant Yellow Kangaroo Paws, Blue Chalk Sticks and Orange Carex were planted within the gravel and gracefully surround the fountain.  The combination of this large ceramic urn and colorful accent plants create a strong focal point in the entry garden.

The plant material was carefully chosen to be bird friendly, colorful, water-wise and low maintenance.  The previously existing, water-thirsty, sod-lawn was replaced with drought tolerant perennials, billowing grasses and a no-mow sod-lawn.  This plant palette requires only seasonal maintenance to keep looking its best.  All perennials and grasses were set up on a water saving drip irrigation system.

Other amenities include a new, clean-lined metal handrail and FX-Luminaire low-voltage lighting.  The lighting includes pathlights along the staircase for safety, uplights for accenting garden trees and downlights for a “moonlit” effect on the fountain.  Gopher baskets for all plants and gopher netting under the no-mow sod-lawn, gravel beds and ground cover were also installed.

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Visiting this garden is always a pleasure for me.  The garden seems to always be in motion.  Grass plumes wave in the breeze, water in the fountain bubbles up and flows down the side of the large urn, humming birds and dragonflies dart about, giving a once static space the feeling of a truly living garden.

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